The Future of Organic Seeds
The world is changing, and our seeds and breeding need to change with it. What does the healthy agriculture of tomorrow look like? How will our climate and habits change? These things need to be weighed so that we know how to direct our organic breeding work. Here are some of the ways we are meeting the needs of current and future farmers.
Flavor, flavor, flavor
The future will be delicious! People are no longer satisfied with cardboard tomatoes, flavorless peppers and beautiful but bland carrots. We know how to farm and breed for flavor; it’s just a question of actually doing it. More ecologically-sound farming techniques, married with breeding for resilience and great flavor, will help us all appreciate vegetables more. Bold, interesting and intense flavors are not always associated with vegetables, but that’s because in recent years, most have been bred for looks or yield first. We think that the future has to have both and our job is to find them or breed them and provide them to you.
Short season for every region
Farming in New England, we feel an urgency around the growing season because of the “winter is coming” mentality, and short season varieties are the best way to ensure a good harvest. But if you’re growing in the South, short season varieties can be helpful too because of the scorching heat, or severe pests and disease. In the West the problem might be a lack of rain.
Wherever you are, short season varieties mean that your crop is in the field for a shorter period of time, and therefore exposed to less weed, pest, disease and weather pressure. Fewer days in the field mean less risk. And for organic farmers, this is extra important because we have a more limited toolbox to reduce these risks. On our northern VT farm we test out the hardiest and shortest-season varieties for you, wherever you farm.
Vigor is key
Wet when you don’t want it and dry when you are wishing for rain. Isn’t that what seems to be happening a lot more lately? Perhaps it’s becoming the norm due to climate change, but we cannot afford to sit back and expect our old varieties to be able to handle what is coming. Under adverse conditions, vigor really matters.
Vigor is when a seed germinates in 5 days instead of 10. Vigor is when that seedling grows at twice the rate you expect. These things don’t have as much to do with conditions; they have to do with the seed – strong, powerful and vigorous seed. We can select for improved vigor and produce the strongest seed possible, to help in the times when you need it most.
Improving OPs - You Get What You Invest In
For centuries people have saved seeds from their favorite plants, selecting for the characteristics they wanted. These are sometimes called landraces, or diverse populations of open-pollinated (OP) varieties. But for some crops breeding has become totally dominated by hybrids, with the end result that hybrids generally perform better than OPs. Just as innovations in horse-drawn technology stopped with the advent of the tractor, innovations in OPs nearly ceased with the onset of hybrid breeding.
But new investments of attention, time and money in OP breeding are yielding great results. New varieties like Who Gets Kissed? sweet corn, Abundant Bloomsdale spinach, Dolciva carrot and Honeynut squash are examples of innovations achieved through OP breeding by universities, non-profits, individuals and seed companies. Both hybrids and OPs play a critical role in ensuring a bountiful harvest, and in our trials we’re seeing these improved OPs doing really well. Many were developed to thrive in organic conditions and offer comparable quality and consistency to hybrids, helping to ensure an array of successful options for your garden or farm.
Interdependence and independence
The organic movement has had to defend itself for years against those who thought that we were crazy, messy or just plain wrong. But in setting ourselves apart, we must not ignore sources of knowledge that help us do better. So at High Mowing we constantly seek out partnerships with farmers, seed companies and breeders, even if they’re not dedicated to organic. We always learn something interesting, and some wonderful collaborations have been born—some of our partners have diverted more resources into organics, or have arranged with us to do that for them. The point is that if we stay inside our organic bubble, we will be less able to shift the world toward a more ecological future.
At the same time, we are fierce about High Mowing remaining organic and independent. Our decisions and strategy are aligned toward us controlling our own destiny. Together we can stand up to the unhealthy vision espoused by many global seed companies today. The future is bright in the organic community; the increasing awareness of the environment, economic equality and human rights mean that organic farmers will be needed in the future. And we aim to be there, providing the seeds you need to produce food in a way the planet can sustain.